tv Tavis Smiley WHUT June 1, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with the woman whose courageous fight led to the landmark equal pay act that bears her name. lilly ledbetter. it born in alabama, she spent 20 years working at a goodyear plant where she was the subject of unspeakable sexual harassment while being paid far less than her male counterparts. despite a request for equality, in 2009, the fair pay restoration act was passed. it was the first bill president obama signed into law upon taking office that year. we are glad to have joined us with lee ledbetter on her new book, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or
boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by tavis: when you think one person in our world can't make a difference, consider lily ledbetter. she picked cotton to help support her family household, a home with no running water or electricity. she went to work for good year in hopes of getting a path to the middle class, but her experience is turned into a
nightmare with constant sexual harassment and low pay. she won a landmark case only to see that decision overturned by an appeals court, a deflating decision reaffirmed by the u.s. supreme court. she did not give up. for two years, she told her story to anyone that would listen, finally convincing enough members of congress to approve the landmark equal pay legislation that bears her name. the very first bill barack obama signed after being inaugurated president was the lily ledbetter fair pay restoration act. and the new book is called grace and grit, my fight for equal pay and fairness. i am honored tonight to have joined us from new york. an honor to have you on this program. >> i am delighted to be here. >> the first thing that jumped out of me when i got a chance to
go through the book, for all of the respect and admiration that we have for you and what you did, why you would stay at a company 20 years that treated you so horribly? >> it was a good job and i was good at my job. i enjoyed it, and i felt like i was being a trailblazer for those women in the other minorities that would come after me. i felt like i would be making a difference, and i thought i was earning good pay. i thought they were treating me fairly, and to my shock later on, i found out they were not. i did enjoy my work and it was a good job for a woman. tavis: what were you doing at good year? >> of the plant that i hired end was a power production plant, and i wanted to be part of the radio division where i was assigned.
i was a supervisor at a later, an area manager where we produce either the components for the tires or processed them. tavis: i love the town you were born in, possom trot alabama, i just wanted to say that on television. your surroundings and what it was to make you work so hard to get on the line, i think that is connected to how you were born and how you were raised. >> i was born in one of the poorest rural counties of alabama at that area was known as possum trot. everyone was in the same boat, so the speak. we were very poor. we lived in a house with no running water or electricity, very rural. we raised our food and i had to pick cotton on the farm and i
had to chop cotton in the spring to earn extra money for the family to help get necessary items for school. it was just a hard life. i was encouraged to get a good education, but one of those lessons that i learned as a young person picking that cotton and chopping in the spring and fall was to give a good day's work for a good day's pay. i knew if i didn't get the cotton in my sack to be weighed at the end of the day, i would not get paid very much. tavis: tell me about your family in that house? >> my father's mother came to live with us.
it was a two-room house. >> i said it two-bedroom but i meant to room. i saw that look on your face, nah, negro, i said two rooms. let me ask you how long it was before you saw running water in the house and where use of electricity. >> it was about 3 acres from my mother's father, they built a four-room house. we moved up in the world. we had indoor plumbing, a bathroom, we had a big porch on the front of the house that went all the way across. we enjoyed that. we really went up a little bit in the world. we had electricity and running water and indoor plumbing. it was really a great change in
our lives. >> you made your way to good year in the works of other jobs along the way. >> before i got a good year, i was the district manager for h&r block, manager in 16 locations and prior to that, i was assistant to the financial aid director, the young people staying in college and helping them get a college degree. tavis: tell me how you came to work at goodyear and how that came to be. >> in 1929, it was one of the oldest factories. they built the radio division and i wanted to be part of that because i knew that radial tires
were the ray of -- the way of the future. i liked production work and i wanted to be in management. i made the cut and was hired on the squadron that was the management training program. there were five of us on that training program and i wanted to be assigned to the radio division. i would talk to everyone that i could possibly get into their office about that. i got into the radio division, but in my 20 years of employment, i worked in every division of that factory except shipping. tavis: how long were you there before the sexual harassment started and what form of sexual harassment are we talking about? >> of the first evaluation that i ever got, the department form and i have said that if i would
meet him at the local motel i could be rated number one. but if i didn't, i would probably be at the bottom of the list. it caught me off-guard, i have gotten flustered and i did not know how to respond. a i could not afford to jeopardize my job. so i excused myself and left his office. the next day i asked if i could finish that meeting and he said that my part was finished. you are at the bottom of the list and that is it. that is basically what a lot of my trouble started with that. it sort of progress for a while, and i was moved into another area away from my manager's job. it was a constant sexual harassment from the time i got in at the beginning of the shift to the end. and it was finally down to if
you don't go to bed with me, you won't have a job next week. i saw college tuition bills, mortgage payments, car payments, all the household expenses and i could not afford to lose my job. that is when i asked for help from the age our department and they started the investigation and it still did not look good from the way they took it. i called the equal employment commission had filed a charge. tavis: through the drama, you eventually became the manager and work your way up. there is a story that you tell in this book, the way you were talking to and the way you were treated. not just as an employee, but as a supervisor. a guy told one day, this is pbs, orderssaid, i' take
from one b at home, i will take another -- i won't take orders from another b at work. he signed off -- >> he took the first job possible to get away from me, and he did. he left. most of the men later learned to respect me and it worked out a little better. he signed off. tavis: how did you sustain your hope? how did you go to work every day and not feel like you're very humanity was under attack. >> i believed going back to the rural section that i was born and that if you do right and
persevere, your ethics are where they should be and you treat your fellow people right, it will work out. i go back to the old westerns i used to attend, the cowboys came out on the and because he was right. he would get beat up and shot back, but he would always come out ahead. i knew what i was capable of doing and i felt like if i continued to show and improve my capabilities and held my head up, it would come out and they would recognize what i could do and what i was capable of doing and be appreciated. tavis: the issues you were confronting were eventually turned into a case. when litigation came into the picture, how did a feel for you to have the company that you
were so desperate to work for and fought to prove yourself, how did it feel when that company was fighting you in court? >> it didn't feel good the last few months i was there. the retaliation and people ignore me and they won't talk to you. they won't share information with you. it is really devastating and it is bad for your personal morale, too. you feel like you have lost your dignity, lost your respect, and you don't know which way to turn. it is really a devastating feeling for the employee. that is what i went to the equal employment commission. i got an interview were that would drag out of me all of the answers that she needed, it really helped me in the long run. by attorney told her later what
outstanding job she had done to get all of that information because i was so devastated and humiliated to have to go into that office and say that i am a manager at this large corporation. but they don't treat me right. it sounds like i am winding or complaining, and that is not who i was. tavis: i assume there were other women in the workplace. how were they treated and how did these women treat you? >> the other women were treated basically the same. i was so fortunate, two women testified on my behalf at trial. that is what really made the jury set up yet taken notice. when they heard their stories. they were not treated well either because one of them had 22 years of service and finally
just took it as long as she could. she sold her retirement at left good year and was a supervisor somewhere else when she came to testify for me. the other lady had been promoted to an area manager's job, but when she asked about her raise, they said and we are not giving it to you. they would not give further raise, the difference in being a secretary and being an area manager. tavis: it is our resting it that you read the note was handed to you and as i understand, you still don't know where your note came from unless something has changed, somebody had a note to the got delivered to you and on the note was written some salaries.
if this is how it came to your attention that you were being mistreated. >> that note was in my mail at work. each one of as did at work, and it was always put on that. four of us had the exact same job at different shifts, the same operation. i was being paid a 40% less than either one of them. we have been shortchanged in overtime and it suddenly hit me about my retirement, my 401k, my contributor retirement, and my social security was based on
that. i was sick, devastated. i could not understand how i would ever make it out on the floor to get through a 12-hour shift. i finally decided i had to do it, i couldn't leave and i can't afford to quit. i pick up my clipboard and i went to the board and did my shift. when i got home, i told my husband that i have to file a charge with the equal employment commission unless you object. if i start it, we will be in this eight years. and it actually took me nine years from that 1998 time the when i got my final verdict. >> of the three most important things in my life, a faith, family, and friends. i suspect that you got called on
all three of those. we talked about how you grew up, but you need your husband, your kids, your friends, how did your family and friends respond to you when you started this herculean effort, this battle to take on a major company? >> my husband said, what time do you want to leave? he drove me to birmingham, my family supported me from the time i started, i had a sign that that is now 50, my daughter is 53, i have a son-in-law and i have a daughter-in-law. they were behind me. i had a strong religious stake that you need. you have to have something to sustain you along with your
family, because even your family occasionally made out that we should be doing what we should be doing. the person themselves, they have to be really strong. you don't get many compliments from other people. they don't understand, they think you are causing trouble. and it is not bad to support me, but there were a lot of people that would walk up and lay their hand on my shoulder and give me a smile without saying a word. tavis: my grandmother was born down south and i was born in mississippi.
never finish until it is done, the the work great or small, do it well or not at all. don't ever start nothing that you don't finish. you mentioned sometimes friends or family doubt whether you are doing the right thing. did lily ever doubt that she was doing the right thing? >> no. i was a twenty-year night shifter. my husband would get up and say, are you sure you know what your doing? i said no, but i know it is the right thing to do. i knew from day one, after i heard from equal employment investigation, you have one of the best cases we have ever seen. and they knew i had a good case.
they knew that we should win that case. the fact is, sometimes you get up to the supreme court. you find that law in the books, and they don't always do that. our goal was to change it back. tavis: ledbetter references the supreme court and how they let her down, her decision. for those that know a bit about the story, you wrote about it in your book, but you initially won a case and awarded $3 million. at that case got overturned by a federal appeals court and it made its way to the u.s. supreme
court, and you heard her say that the supreme court did not do the right thing in this instance. ruth bitter ginsberg wrote the dissent. in our view, this court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination. pretty straight forward and right to the point, but at least there were folks that understand what you are trying to do. >> with her dissent, i had many calls from all over the united states that she was right on. what justice aledo said, it didn't make sense. he said that my problem wasn't that i was not discriminated against, but that it was because i did not file a charge of the first time i got that discriminatory paycheck, even
though i didn't know it. that is not what the law was, but justice ginsberg hit the nail on the head. >> with all respect to justice aledo, i hope i am never in front of him because i just called him crazy on tv. how can you miss the statute of limitations about something that you didn't even know? you got congress to pass this legislation and barack obama signed it as his first piece of legislation, how did you feel that they standing next to the president of united states signing legislation for all women that bears her name? >> that was on rio. -- unreal. that went through my mind and down to my heart, thinking about what that signature would mean a to all of the working families. and all of those women and the men that were there that day for
that bill, they were so elated because they had not been to that house and eight years. they were thrilled to be there. it was such a glorious day. i wish that my husband was there, i lost him in december just prior to this. he always knew that it will become law. he supported me right up until the end. life goes on, people have to deal with all those curveballs you get. he encouraged me to go to washington and he would tell me, you go on nt will be back in a day. he supported me, and we believe that this was right and it had to be done. it had to be done for all of those people working for the rest of their lives.
tavis: book is called "grace and grit." is a heroine and gripping and inspiring story. i am honored to have you on this program, thank you. >> thank you, i am honored to be here. >> until then, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with pulitzer prize-winning writer anna quinlan. see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance